First 'microsubmarines' designed to help clean up oil spills

May 02, 2012

Scientists are reporting development and successful testing of the first self-propelled "microsubmarines" designed to pick up droplets of oil from contaminated waters and transport them to collection facilities. The report concludes that these tiny machines could play an important role in cleaning up oil spills, like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico. It appears in the journal ACS Nano.

Joseph Wang and colleagues explain that different versions of microengines have been developed, including devices that could transport medications through the bloodstream to diseased parts of the body. But no one has ever shown that these devices — which are about 10 times smaller than the width of a human hair — could help clean up . There is an urgent need for better ways of separating oil from water in the oceans and inside factories to avoid releasing oil-contaminated water to the environment. Wang's team developed so-called microsubmarines, which require very little fuel and move ultrafast, to see whether these small engines could help clean up oil.

Tests showed that the cone-shaped microsubmarines can collect droplets of olive oil and motor oil in water and transport them through the water. The microsubs have a special surface coating, which makes them "superhydrophobic," or extremely water-repellent and oil-absorbent. "These results demonstrate the potential of the superhydrophobic-modified microsubmarines for facile, rapid and highly efficient collection of oils in oil-contaminated water samples," say the researchers.

Explore further: Our new anti-earthquake technology could protect cities from destruction

More information: ACS Nano, Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/nn301175b

Related Stories

Defying conventional wisdom, water can float on oil

Apr 04, 2012

Defying thousands of years of conventional wisdom, scientists are reporting that it is possible for water to float on oil, a discovery they say has important potential applications in cleaning up oil spills ...

Recommended for you

Focused energy of lasers breaks microscopic adhesion

Jul 02, 2015

Small objects tend to cling to everything. It's why parents dread hosting parties that involve confetti. It's why glitter is fun for crafts—until it finds its way onto everything else you touch.

Insect decoys could protect ash trees

Jul 02, 2015

Emerald ash borers have no trouble reproducing themselves as they have now spread through half the United States, but duplicating effective emerald ash borer decoys is not quite as easy. Now, engineers have ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.